There are numerous ways of stealing, especially in modern times when cheating in various forms is considered by many a sign of cleverness. The whole world in the past looked to the United States as a magical place because it was possible to get whatever you wanted if you just worked hard enough at it. Immigrants that got off the boat with only a few dollars and no knowledge of English became multimillionaires in time through hard work. It is a plain fact that none of the rich of America, past or present, came to this country wealthy and powerful.
All the wealth and power in this land has been earned…or stolen. And the latter has become increasingly common. The American Dream is no longer to get what you want by working for it, but the hope of getting something–indeed a lot of something–for nothing. Since this is impossible in a literal sense, it has been translated into getting what you want in exchange for what looks like something, but is in reality nothing. This is sometimes called being “savvy,” a “slick operator,” “enterprising,” or “entrepreneurial,” but it always involves tricking someone into thinking that nothing is something so they will exchange what they have for the illusion.
We steal through lying to the IRS and our insurance companies, through pyramid sales of various forms, even if called “multilevel marketing,” through selling people useless (and even harmful) items and services, through overpricing of goods, through misrepresentation of our goods or our services–and often ourselves, as well. We also steal through finding ways of not paying what we owe–including not paying just wages to employees.
Since the list would be interminable, we should define stealing and then use our intelligence to see if any of our actions fit the definition.
The basic meaning
Basically: stealing is taking, receiving, or using (without permission) anything that is not ours. And a thing is “ours” only when it has either been rightfully and freely given to us or has been rightfully earned. This applies to intangibles as much as it does to material objects and money.
Although the obvious reason behind the prohibition of stealing is its injury of those from whom we steal (and we all know people who think that it is not wrong to steal from the very wealthy or from big corporations, banks, etc., or anyone they–the prospective thieves–look upon as being thieves and crooks), it is ultimately based on the law of karma. Those who steal will in the future, whether sooner or later, be stolen from. That is the law, and there is no exemption. Since no sensible person wants to be stolen from, it is just good sense not to steal.
But there is another side to the karmic coin. If we do not actually steal in the sense of rob, but take or accept and use that which is not ours or which we did not deserve by earning it in some way–either material or moral–we will crate a karmic debt, eventually lose it, and be called upon in the future to somehow pay for its possession and use. This is why some people just cannot hold on to money or possessions, however hard or honestly they work, and why some have their material assets swept away from them by seeming accident or “fate.” They are paying old debts.
The law may be paraphrased in this way: “Do not reap what you have not sown, for you shall pay for what you have not earned.” We are creating our future at every moment, a future in which our economy will certainly be a major factor. Therefore, to ignore and break the injunction against stealing is to covenant sorrow for ourselves.
Perhaps no worse evil can befall the human being than loss of conscience, especially in relation to other human beings. For this reason, as well, stealing is wrong since it entails a callousness to the injury of others.
At rock bottom, stealing is based on a purely materialistic egotism that involves a totally false idea about the nature of the universe and of ourselves. To believe that happiness and contentment may be bought at the expense of others is false indeed. A thief not only has a wrong idea about the nature of himself and of what constitutes true happiness and well-being, by his actions and state of mind he ensures that he will never learn except through great suffering.
Thou shalt not steal!
Read the next article in Gnosis of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Thou shalt not bear false witness.